Thursday, September 22, 2011
It took me so long to update this story. Nope, not because I didn’t know what to write, but to find time to write is almost impossible for me lately. But once I found it, I just needed 2 days to complete it :).
Our pick for this year’s getaway was Beijing, China. Located on the northeast of China, this vast modern city has a great balance of exotic elements and renowned history. The city was so huge. Hypothetically speaking, it could have taken us at least 4 hours to get from one end to the other. That is about the journey from Kuala Lumpur to Johor Bahru, if we are talking about the same distance in Malaysia.
From Kuala Lumpur we flew to Tianjin, approximately 130 kilometers on the southeast of Beijing. It took us 6 hours on board the plane. As we reached Tianjin Bin Hai International Airport, it was almost 3.00pm local time. After the customary check and baggage claim process were cleared, we rushed for our Solat Jamak - a priviledged and simplified mode of Islamic Prayer that allows a Muslim to combine 2 prayers into 1, specifically allowable for Travelers or Musafirs. Since we were in Tianjin and Buddhism is their main religion, there was no proper place for us to perform our Solat. So we decided to just perform at one corner of the waiting area within the airport. The weather was at 11 degree Celsius, it was early March and it was still winter time in Beijing. It was seriously COLD!! Brrrr...
It took us another 1.5 hour journey by bus to reach Beijing. This time around, we engaged a Travel Agency to arrange for a holiday package for our visit in Beijing. A 6-day, 5-night stay in a foreign non-English-speaking country could have been problematic to us should we have decided to arrange things on our own. When we reached Beijing, it was almost dinner time. We went straight to a Chinese-Muslim restaurant for a feast of Chinese cuisine. I couldn’t actually recall the name of the restaurant. The food was palatable enough to satisfy our hunger, especially when our last meal was the in-flight snack we had about 8 hours earlier!
I have made my groundwork to check on the weather in Beijing beforehand, and we expected quite a cold weather and a major drop in temperature during the night. Yup, we experienced a 0 degree Celsius that night. It was very windy so it felt like a minus -3 degree Celsius after all. We proceeded to watch the Acrobatic Performance at Jin Sha Theatre right after dinner. This jaw-dropping performance was truly magnificent. I knew beforehand that the Chinese were very good in acrobatic and I have seen few performances prior to this, but nothing that I saw back home could have matched the one I watched that night. My favourite was definitely the finale of 6 bikes moving as fast as they could in one sphere cage, criss-crossing each other. It is a must-see performance if you are visiting Beijing, I reckon!
By the time we checked-in into our hotel room, it was already late. So we called it a day and slumber off in our 6-day abode, Bai Meng Wei (Famous International) Hotel.
Today was the highlight of our trip! To the Great Wall it is!!! After a quick light breakfast we had at the hotel’s coffee house, we went up to our room and packed all the necessities for the day (since we will be out for the whole day, so I had to remember to take enough tidbits, water, lotion, lip balm, extra gloves, mufflers, etc). The weather was really cold and dry, around 7 degree Celsius. Coming from a tropical country where 30 degree Celsius is our average temperature, this extreme change of weather could have done much harm to our skin. I could feel the dryness on my face and my body must have also lost its moisture. I wasn’t prepared for this, and the lotion I brought wasn’t good enough for this kind of weather… My skin started to peel off, especially on my face… sigh!
On our way to the Great Wall, we made a stop at a few factories, i.e. The Jade House and Cloisonné Factory, generally to see how these precious stones and minerals were turned into beautiful jeweleries and carvings. No doubt that they were all gorgeous and fine looking but… nope, I didn’t shop for anything here. My agent back home (who happens to be my dearly uncle) had incessantly told me that the prices at these factories have been crazily marked up. It was very expensive if compared to the ones sold at the many markets and shopping centers within the city. So, I decided to only feast my eyes on the collections, and should I ever need to buy, I would ever-so-willingly take a look at the local markets later :).
Right outside the Jade factory, there was a man selling sweet potatoes, strawberries and an array of nuts on a pushcart, waiting for people, mostly those who visited the factory, to buy. Let me tell you, in this particular cold weather, you can get hungry so easily. My husband bought some sweet potatoes and some pistachio for us. We can’t wait but to taste the sweet potatoes straight away while it was still hot. It tasted so yummy, we had to go for a second helping. And we also tasted the strawberries. Not only the size was big and plump, they were so juicy and sweet too.
After lunch, finally we made way to the much-awaited destination, the Great Wall. It is a destination of one of the Seven Wonders of the World! Our bus dropped us at the Juyongguan section, one of the three greatest passes of the Great Wall of China, 50km outskirt Beijing. It was around 3.00 in the afternoon and since this area was slightly higher, the temperature was a little bit colder and windier than in the city. We started to climb the steps and were given only 1.5 hours to finish our climb. It was not an easy climb I must tell. Each step was not built the same. Those steps were hand-built, so some steps were disproportionately small and some were big. Not only that, some sections were really steep too!
There were four stop points before you could reach the top of this section. I only managed to reach up to the 3rd one. I bet the cold and chilly weather were not so supportive of me. With all the winter clothing and boots, I was at least 2 kilos heavier than my normal weight! It’s not easy to climb with all the heavy clothing, people! But my husband and my son managed to go all the way up and came down with a big grin on their faces, showing off their “I Have Climbed The Great Wall” medals! Great job, boys!
Once I reached the stop point (3rd level), the view was breathtakingly impressive. I could see the whole spread of the Great Wall before my eyes. It was like looking into a huge, life-size painting! The feeling was really indescribable. It was winter remember, so everything was rough and grey though. I also learned from our agent the story behind the building of each and every step of the entire Great Wall, the history of why it was built that way (originally to protect the northern borders of the Chinese Empire against intrusions by various nomadic groups) and how many lives were claimed throughout the making of this series of stone and earthen fortifications that stretches for 8,851.8 km. Interesting facts. If you ever put you feet down on this humungous edifice, I bet words will never be enough to describe your feelings. You have just got to be there to experience it.
When we were back in the city, it was already dark and very cold. Our lovely so-called banquet awaited us at Xin Jiang Muslim Restaurant. It was the second day with almost-similar Chinese cuisine. Wasn’t that bad yet! Wait till the last day… :)
It was bright and sunny day in Beijing with crystal blue skies that day! But don’t be fooled by the sun, the temperature was at 8 degree celsius that day and the wind was still blowing hard. Early morning, we had to beat the rush hour to reach the Tiananmen Square. It is the gate to the renowned Forbidden City, the complex of Imperial Palace, which was home to the emperors for over 500 years. The Forbidden City is the world's largest surviving palace complex and covers 178 acres. The whole complex was remarkably unique. It is a rectangle 961 metres (3,153 ft) from north to south and 753 metres (2,470 ft) from east to west. It consists of 980 surviving buildings with 8,707 bays of rooms. The Forbidden City was designed to be the centre of the ancient, walled city of Beijing. It is enclosed in a larger, walled area called the Imperial City. The Imperial City is, in turn, enclosed by the Inner City, to its south lies the Outer City. The Forbidden City was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987, and is listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.
During this time of the year, tourists from all over the world have started to stream down to Beijing. Beijing was below freezing temperature from Dec to Feb so I bet whoever comes during that period, they would have Forbidden City, or even Beijing to themselves. When we reached the square, I could see the crowd growing steadily and the queue to enter the Forbidden City was rather long. Luckily we had our tour guide to handle the purchase of the tickets.
As we entered, I realized that the place was really, really huge. Surrounded by three Imperial Gardens, the whole complex was meticulously planned to reflect philosophical and religious principles, and above all, to symbolise the majesty of Imperial power. If I am not mistaken, there were four gigantic gates before one could reach to the main building where the Emperor used to live. It is surrounded by a 7.9 metres (26 ft) high city wall and a 6 metres (20 ft) deep by 52 metres (171 ft) wide moat. The walls are 8.62 metres (28.3 ft) wide at the base, tapering to 6.66 metres (21.9 ft) at the top. These walls served as both defensive walls and retaining walls for the palace. Pheww… what an interesting fact! That shows the place was really well-guarded and it was virtually impossible for enemies to actually penetrate the palace and harm the Emperor. And from what I learned, all Emperors who used to live there were safe from enemies for as long as they live.
We were also brought to the room that used to be the Emperor’s bedroom, the reading room, the main hall and the concubines rooms, amongst thousands of rooms within the enormous confines of The Forbidden City.
Later in the afternoon, we visited the oldest mosque in Beijing, The Nui Jie Mosque. It has a unique Chinese style with over 1000 years of history. We performed our prayers there. Just in front of the mosque, I saw a few local sellers selling some sweets made from almonds, sunflower seeds, raisins, dried apricots and cashew nuts, all combined with dried syrup, making them stuck together. I bought some to taste and it tasted wonderful. It surely was a nice goodie to bring back home :).
We then proceeded to Yashow Market, a 6-storey shopping arcade best for bargain hunters. It had little of everything from clothings to electronic goods, watches, shoes, handbags, pearls and jeweleries, tea and tea-related stuff, Chinese ornaments and quite a lot of toys. Since this market is often visited by foreign tourists, the sellers spoke pretty good English, so it was quite easy to bargain. One good advice from me is… BARGAIN HARD! Cut the price into half from the price shown and you may work from there. Yup, we bought a few items from this market, mainly souvenirs to bring back home. I was so into the many choices of Designers Trench Coat, but at the end, I didn’t buy any. I just can’t imagine when can I get to wear all those coats back home? It is so not practical. So I decided to hunt for handbags, shoes and normal clothing. :).
OK, this is just half of the story of my getaway in Beijing. I will be back with another half of it soon. Stay tuned! :)